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  • Fairbury News staff

Facility discussions begin

(PACT co-chair Chuck Power addresses the crowd at Monday's meeting held at PCHS)

A crowd of well over 200 filled the gym floor at Prairie Central High School Monday night for the first in a series of informational and interactive meetings on the future of the PC school district.

An effort known as PACT, or “Planning a Course Together,” is holding meetings to get public input on facilities in the district on how to move forward with a plan to present to the Board of Education in the spring.

“There’s a plan here to have four meetings,” explained Prairie Central Board of Education President John Wilken.

Wilken indicated the district was in a different position financially when he started on the board seven years ago. The financial situation is better now.

“About two years ago, things got better to where we could actually entertain the idea of doing things,” he added.

The evening began with a video presentation shown to the crowd, outlining each school building.

The high school has the original furnace from 1955 and windows in the Lincoln Wing are inefficient and original to the building. The junior high tile floor is cracking and needs to be replaced plus the roof as some leaks. PC’s upper elementary school has two hot water boilers installed in 1997 and HVAC controls run off of an air compressor so trying to find air leaks is difficult. Also, some windows are old and non-efficient with a single pane.

Prairie Central Elementary, formerly known as Westview, in Fairbury has a hot water boiler original to the building from 1963 and the original tile floor is popping loose from the concrete. Leaks have damaged the ceiling and galvanized water lines are original and have deteriorated. There is also not enough power for what is needed with today’s technology.

A steam boiler at Prairie Central Primary East in Chatsworth is original to the 1955 building and the building is also under powered for what is needed. It cannot currently support the need for air conditioning. Restroom fixtures are not convenient for the ages of kids there, water lines have deteriorated and the building has windows original to it.

The ceiling in the old basement weight room at Prairie Central Primary West in Chenoa has started to come down, although the school’s boilers are much newer than others and more efficient. Leaks over the years have damaged ceilings. Water and sewer lines are original to the 1936 facility and small stalls in the restrooms are non-ADA compliant.

“We have some things that really need to be addressed,” admitted Wilken.

An architectural firm was utilized to do a survey of district facilities and Wilken considers it “great to have options.”

Anna Schmidgall is one of the co-chairs involved with the PACT effort and believes PC has a lot of heart. She told the audience where they want to go and that identifying a vision for the future starts now.

“I am proud to be in an area comprised of several small communities,” she said.

PC Superintendent Paula Crane gave an overview of the district which included some history, from the consolidation in the mid-1980s to reorganizing with Chenoa in 2004 and transforming into attendance centers in 2016.

“Prairie Central has six schools within our district,” Crane explained.

The district has 287 staff members and serves 1718 students. PC High School is the largest with 520 students. Crane said they try to make the best use of the facilities they can and often share spaces for sports. She noted enrollment is declining but has sort of leveled off with 2023 being the low point. Enrollment has been dropping significantly throughout the state.

Transportation is a difficult aspect of a district such as PC as they are bussing kids all over the 386 square-mile area.

“We have kids going every which way in the district,” observed Crane.

The district has less routes than it would like to have because they are short drivers with 12 morning and 13 afternoon bus routes. The longest bus ride is 120 minutes currently.

Damien Schlitt with BLDD Architects examined building conditions and costs.

“The buildings are very well maintained however many of the building systems are at the end of their life,” he said.

According to Schlitt, galvanized pipe gets pin holes over time and starts to leak. Plus, single-pane windows are costing the school district more to heat or cool buildings and the need for technology is great.

“Many of these buildings are still functioning as they were when they were designed in the 50s or 60s,” Schlitt explained.

The majority of dollars would include major system items such as HVAC and sprinklers and the core functionality of buildings. Safety and security is one of the highest scoring categories for the buildings currently, though it is hard to keep the buildings up.

School leaders say the district is facing $57 million in facility improvement needs.

Audience members broke into small groups to address concerns and come up with questions and suggestions for the district. They were tasked with describing what they were surprised by, what they would like to learn in upcoming meetings and describing the current facilities in just three words.

A chosen spokesperson from each table stood before the crowd to share what their group came up with. Questions ranged from where the money comes from to build new facilities to why the junior high has issues when it is the newest building. Some questioned which buildings could be replaced and how to ensure any new structure is adequate so there would not be problems several years down the road.

“These building issues are important enough for me to come out of my comfort zone,” stated Chuck Power, a PACT co-chair.

Since he started substitute teaching, Power noticed the conditions of some of the district buildings. He considers this meeting the first step of what is better for our kids. Power has children and grandchildren who have attended Prairie Central.

“We are all here to help plan our children’s future,” Power concluded.

Guided tours are planned of all Prairie Central school facilities March 2 and 16 from 9 a.m. to noon.

The next PACT meeting is set for March 11 at Prairie Central High School discussing finances followed by an April 15 session on scenario refinement and a meeting May 6 to pick a plan.

(PC Superintendent Paula Crane addresses the crowd)

(One of the informational slides presented Monday evening)

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